Downs and Wardle begin by acknowledging the basis of First Year Composition (FYC). In essence, it communicates the difference between teaching how to write in college and teaching about writing itself. According to the authors, supporting the position that FYC is a universal discourse reinforces the broader perception at the university that Writing Studies (WS) doesnt have a subject, however teaching WS can create a more fluid understanding of writing. With this, it can improve the way we think of writing and change our ideology about it.
Ultimately, the authors question the foundation of FYC courses.
Throughout the article, Downs and Wardle outline important misconceptions about writing and writing skills. One misconception is that the length of writing is better than content of writing. Another misconception is that writing is composed of syntactic and mechanical problems, not rhetorical and contextual. Its also commonly mistaken that writing skills are easily transferable to other courses across the university. With the misconceptions construed upon FYC, Downs and Wardle introduce their concept of writing about writing.
They propose a course where the content is about how writing works, how its used, and the problems and solutions related to it. This helps students understand some activities related to written scholarly inquiry by demonstrating the conversational and subjective nature of scholarly text. Some activities include reflective, research, and presentation assignments. Reflective assignments help us better understand a text by responding to it. Research assignments are heavily geared toward primary research and help us, as students, to generate knowledge.
With presentation assignments, one can visually see how an audience reacts to their analysis of the data and findings.
Continuing their research, Downs and Wardle performed case studies, each with a student from their own course, one of which was a struggling student and one who was a confident student. These contrasting cases demonstrated the flexibility and appropriateness of the curriculum for a variety of students. Through Downs course, the struggling student became engaged and confident in writing. Through Wardles course, the confident student learned to challenge herself with rhetorical reading strategies. Teaching about writing may not improve student writing, but exercises in self-reflection and mindfulness are transferable skills that assist students in understanding their writing process across courses. Students will also develop increased self awareness about writing, improved reading abilities and confidence, and raised awareness of research writing as conversation. Essentially, Downs and Wardle shift the goal of FYC from teaching about writing to teaching realistic and useful conceptions of writing.